The Art of Tracking

It has been said that tracking is an unusual combination of disciplines.  How many other fields do you know of that combine science and the arts?  These are two fields which activate two completely different sides of the brain!  With such a challenging nature, more and more guides and trackers are becoming passionate about tracking and trying to broaden their knowledge of the subject.

You may question how tracking involves science and what its importance is.  The answer would be that people have been using tracking to find animals to hunt for millennia.  In those times it was a matter of survival for those people but in today’s modern times it has very relevant uses as well.  In terms of conservation, tracking can help conservationists to identify the numbers and activity of rare and seldom seen species.  Often, in what appears to be a completely lifeless landscape the ground will tell the tale of the previous night and day’s events.  The real benefit is that tracking is a completely unobtrusive way of obtaining information about animal behaviour where it is not affected by human presence.

Over the last few decades Louis Liebenberg (an authority on the subject) has developed a system for evaluating trackers based on different facets.  The first consists of track & sign identification.  Tracks and signs are circled by the evaluator and the trackers are asked to identify them.  Difficulty varies from level 1 (“Big 5”, hippo, giraffe, zebra etc) to level 2 (antelope, jackal etc) to level 3 (insects and birds).  Not only must the tracks be correctly identified but dung, scent markings, rubbing posts, etc will also be tested.  The second facet is a trailing component where the tracker must follow an animal’s trail over different substrates and use all of their senses and intuition to find the animal.

Last week two of our trackers, Vusi Nkosi, Collen Mokoena and I embarked on one of these assessments to attain some formal qualifications and perhaps learn some tricks from our very experienced evaluator, Colin Patrick.  As I had already attained track & sign level 3 before, Vusi and Collen spent these few days alone with Colin.  50 questions were asked and the lads only missed a handful of them.  At the end of the track & sign both Collen and Vusi came away with level 3, a fantastic effort!  The next few days were spent tracking white rhino as they leave a visible trail and are a good benchmark to assess all levels of trackers.  The trail must often be followed for hours before the evaluator is satisfied and all signs must be pointed out including resting spots, dung piles, rubbing posts.  The tracker’s senses and concentration must not waver throughout the exercise and he must also be aware of other animals in the vicinity and any sounds which might lead them to the animal.  Collen and I did fairly well on difficult trails and both attained high level 2’s (a few percent short of level 3).  Vusi put in a phenomenal performance and actually went all the way to an overall tracker level 3 qualification!

With the Karula safari team showing so much passion and talent for tracking the rest of our team cannot wait to attend the next assessment in April and show what they are capable of! Good luck to them in the next few weeks!

Cameron Pearce, Head Ranger – Kapama Karula

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